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episode twelve

Chapter Eleven

To: Renegade Son < [email protected] >

From: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >

Subject: Calm down

Hallam,

We both know that it's too dangerous for me to speak to you on the phone. I thought we'd also agreed that it was in everyone's best interests to keep Jason's secrets and my secrets.

Please don't threaten me, Hallam. You shouldn't labor under the delusion that you have power over me. You don't.

I have people on the Jason and Azazel situation. I'm sure we'll be able to locate them soon.

Edgar

Lilith and I slept on the floor in a room in the abandoned house. We were still tied up. It was hard to get comfortable. Jude and my brothers only gave us one blanket, so we huddled against each other for warmth. They told us that one of them would be watching the door at all times. There didn't seem much hope of escape.

I didn't feel much like snuggling against Lilith. Even though it had turned out that she wasn't working for the Satanists, I still couldn't bring myself to actually like her. I knew that I should feel bad for getting her into this situation. But mostly I just felt annoyed. It would be much easier for me to try to escape if I didn't have to worry about Lilith.

It was cold though, so I got close to her for body warmth. We lay in the dark, listening to the sounds of insects in the woods surrounding the abandoned house.

"Azazel," whispered Lilith.

"What?" I said.

"Do you think that they're going to make me go back to Bramford?"

Of course she was only worried about herself. What about Jason? What about me? "I'm going to get us out of this," I said.

"How?" she said.

"I don't know yet," I told her. "But I will. I promise you. And after that . . ." After that, I wanted her to go away, and I never wanted to see her again.

"It's okay," she said. "I know I haven't been the greatest best friend to you."

That was an understatement. I kept my mouth shut.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that girls like you get everything. You're all sweet and naďve, and guys just eat that shit up. They fall in love with girls like you. And just because I'm not like that. Well, no one's ever going to fall in love with me, Zaza. I know it was wrong, but I—I couldn't handle it. I wanted to . . . ruin it, somehow. Like if I couldn't have it, I didn't want you to have it, either."

That was the most twisted thing I'd ever heard. "Lilith," I said, "you're the kind of girl that guys want. They want someone experienced, with big boobs and curves."

"No," she said. "They don't. They might want to have sex with me, but they don't really want someone like me. They want someone like you. No one wants me."

Poor Lilith. I rolled my eyes in the darkness. "I'm sure that someday you'll find someone," I said. "We're only seventeen. We've got time."

Lilith shivered under the covers. "I don't think so," she said. "In Bramford, I met Michaela Weem once. She came to visit after your parents died. She looked into my eyes, and she said that I would never be loved. Not even once before I died."

"Forget Michaela Weem," I said. "Seriously, Lilith. You can't believe that."

When the sun came up, it poured in through the windows, waking me up. Lilith was still asleep next to me. I lay on my back for a few minutes, surveying my surroundings. The room we were in was devoid of decoration or furniture, except for some peeling wallpaper on the walls. The floor was hardwood, splintering and warped in places. Two unadorned large windows blazed sunlight into the space.

Windows!

Why hadn't I thought of this last night?

Probably because it had been too dark to even see that the windows existed. Carefully, I wriggled out from under the blanket. Next to me, Lilith made a noise in her sleep but didn't wake up. It wasn't easy getting to my feet while my hands were tied behind my back, but I finally managed it, scooting to the wall and using it for support. Once standing, I walked over to one of the windows. The glass in it rippled a little. It was clearly old glass, which was probably a bad sign. It looked strong.

But I could probably just unlock the window and open it, provided the windows weren't nailed shut. Then Lilith and I could climb out of the window. We were on the second story, but it looked like we'd drop onto several springy bushes that surrounded the house. That should help to cushion our fall. Plus, as near as I could tell, we weren't up so high that a drop would cause us to break a limb or anything. I didn't think.

Of course, I realized that my hands were tied behind my back. I couldn't unlock or open the window without my hands. Breaking the window was pretty much out of the question too. We didn't have any furniture. Besides, that would be loud, and someone might hear me doing that, come rushing in, and put an end to my escape attempt.

As if reading my thoughts, Jude opened the door and strode into the room. I turned my back to the window, hoping he wouldn't realize I'd been contemplating an escape route.

"You're awake," he said.

I nodded. "I hope you've come in here to tell me that you've come to your senses and you're going to trade me for your mother this afternoon."

Jude sneered. "No way," he said. "Jason doesn't tell me what to do."

Something about the edge to his voice let me know he was serious. He hated Jason. I could see that now. And to think, all that time in Bramford, Jason had known that there was something off about Jude, and I'd never noticed. I should have trusted Jason, but hindsight was twenty-twenty.

"I don't know how he found us, anyway," Jude said. "How could he have had any idea who took you?"

I shrugged. "Well, Jason's pretty amazing." But Jude was right, now that I thought about it. How had Jason figured it out so quickly? He'd beaten us to Shiloh. Was there something odd about that?

Jude glowered at me. "So I hear. Been spending my whole life hearing about Jason."

I didn't say anything.

"My mother never shut up about him. About her visions. About the abomination. But I used to wonder why, if he was such an abomination, she spent so much time talking about him." Jude walked around me and stood at the window himself. He stared through the glass. "If it weren't for the fact that everyone else is convinced that you have to kill him, I'd kill him myself.

"He's so self-righteous," Jude continued. "Thinking he can protect you. That night on the beach, he never knew that I had performed the ritual and placed the bell in your bag. Dingle's bell. There was a certain poetry to the way that it represented Azazel and also fit the ritual. It was just like Azazel to steal something from an authority figure for his own purposes. Like weapons. Like fire. I thought of that. Me. And I carried it out. And Jason never knew. He was clueless."

"I'll never kill him," I said. "You have to know that. You know how much I love him."

Jude snorted, still not looking at me. "You two have been arguing a hell of a lot, though, haven't you? And for all you know, he was screwing Lilith."

"He was not. There's no way he . . ." Jude was wrong.

Jude turned back from the window. He took my arm and began to lead me out of the room. "We've got some things to show you, Azazel," he said. He smiled. "But, just between us, I kind of hope you're right. I hope that when it comes down to it, you aren't able to kill him after all, because I'd love to step in and finish the job."

I jerked my arm out of his grasp. "You're no match for Jason," I said.

He snatched my arm back. "We'll just see about that, won't we?"

* * *

Noah had a laptop, which was running off battery power. There wasn't any electricity in the abandoned house. Gordon had the laptop open and was crouched over it on the floor. We were all in a large room on the first floor. Probably a parlor or a sitting room of some kind. There wasn't any furniture in this room, either, but the walls were decorated in graffiti. Someone had spray painted a large message proclaiming that Randy loved Sara, "4-ever + always." There was also a distorted mural of a naked woman on one of the walls, also rendered in spray paint.

"Gordon, you're going to run the battery down," Noah was saying.

Jude was still clutching my arm. We stood together in the doorway.

"This battery will last hours," said Gordon.

"Not if it's running video," said Noah.

"It's not running video right now," said Gordon.

"No, but"

Jude cleared his throat. Both of my brothers turned to look at us.

"Where's Lilith?" asked Gordon.

"Still asleep in the room," said Jude.

"Should someone be watching her?" asked Gordon.

Jude glared at him, but he dropped my arm and left the room. Noah got up and came to me. He untied my hands, and I stretched them, rubbing my fingers against each other. I hadn't realized how uncomfortable I'd been tied up until I wasn't. Noah led me further into the room.

"Sit down," he told me.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"We have some things to show you," said Gordon.

"Show me?" I asked. How? What were they going to show me?

Gordon set the laptop down in front of me, so that the screen was facing me. He had a video file open. It was paused, but I could see a woman's face, frozen in the middle of speech.

"What is this?" I asked.

"We're just not sure that you know everything about Jason that there is to know," said Noah. "We want to make sure you're informed, little sis."

"I know Jason better than I know anyone on earth," I countered, folding my arms over my chest.

"So you know about the sorority girls," said Gordon.

"Yes," I said. "I do." But I remembered something that Hallam had said to me, in the kitchen in our apartment. Something about what Jason had done that night. And the way I remembered it, Jason had told me that he hadn't done anything but watch.

Gordon raised his eyebrows. "You do?"

I stared him down.

Gordon reached around the laptop and hit play on the video. The woman's face unfroze. She was youngmaybe in her mid-twenties. She had a large scar on her face. It twisted over her features, purple and contorted. Her voice was halting and hesitant.

"They left me for dead," she was saying.

An off-screen voice asked, "So, they didn't leave any intentional survivors?"

"No. They were there to kill us all," she said.

"And do you know why they came to kill you?"

"I don't know. I really don't know. They said something about us running a brothel or something, but that was just stupid. We were a sorority. We had boyfriends. Maybe sometimes, girls even had flings. But we weren't doing anything wrong or anything illegal."

"And they've never caught the men who did this?"

"Caught them? They've hardly even looked for them. At the beginning, there was a lot of media attention and the police made a lot of promises. But they only talked to me once. And they've never made any arrests. They say they don't have any evidence."

I looked at Noah and Gordon. "I don't really think there's any reason for me to watch this," I said. "Jason told me all about it."

"Just keep watching," said Gordon.

I rolled my eyes. Sure, this was a horrible, terrible thing that Hallam had done. But both Hallam and Jason had been acting under the direction of the Sons. None of it had been their idea. And the Sons demanded that their members blindly obey.

"Can you tell us what happened that night?" asked the unseen voice on the video.

The girl looked away from the camera. "I can try," she said, but her voice sounded unsteady.

"Take your time."

The girl took a deep breath. She didn't look back at the camera, but instead down at the ground. "There were two of them," she said. "They were both young. One was maybe twenty or so. The other one was a kid. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen. That was what disturbed me the most. The fact that he was just a kid. He looked so innocent. He didn't seem the least bit bothered by what was going on. It seemed so normal for him."

I bit my lip. I knew it wasn't normal for Jason. It had really disturbed him. I remembered the way he'd talked to me about it. The haunted, empty look in his eyes. This woman didn't know what she was talking about.

"I didn't know what was going on in the beginning," she continued, "because I was asleep in my bedroom. It was late. Maybe two in the morning or something. I don't know. Anyway, I woke up and there was this figure standing over my bed with a gun. It was the kid. He told me to get up and come with him. He had three of the other girls with him. Apparently, he was rounding everyone up out of their beds. I didn't know why. If they were just going to kill us all, wouldn't it have been more merciful just to put bullets in our heads while we slept? Why did he have to wake me up? Why did he have to make me watch?"

The girl put her head in her hands and started to cry softly.

I looked away. I didn't want to know this. I really didn't think I wanted to know this. "It doesn't matter what you show me," I said to Noah and Gordon. "You can't change how I feel about Jason."

"Just watch," said Noah.

The unseen voice was speaking, gently. "Isn't it true that they did discover some of the girls shot in their beds?"

The girl raised her tearstained face. "Yes, the police said that they did. But there were at least ten of us that the kid rounded up. He took us downstairs, into our kitchen and he made us stand in the middle of the room. He sat on the counter and talked to us."

"Talked to you? What did he say?"

"The stuff about the brothel, like I said. He said that he had to do it, because we were doing illegal and immoral things. He didn't seem upset about it at all. He didn't even seem sorry. He was very matter-of-fact about it. While he was talking, Tamishe was the president of the sororityshe managed to get hold of a butcher knife. I could see that she had it, but I didn't let on. I didn't know what she thought she was going to do with it, but she had it.

"Then," continued the girl, "the other guy came in. The older guy. He and the kid started to argue. The older guy was saying that the kid was making it harder than it needed to be. They should just shoot them and be done with it. There wasn't any reason to drag it out. And the kid was saying that we deserved to know why we were dying. And they were yelling at each other. They were distracted, and Tami snuck up behind the older guy. She had the knife, and she started to raise it to . . . I don't know . . . stab him, maybe, I . . . But the kid saw her. And then . . ."

The girl looked away again, shaking her head.

"What happened then?" prompted the voice.

"I don't really know," said the girl. "It was dark and it was so fast. There was all this gunfire and scuffling. And everyone started to try to run then. But I couldn't move. I just stood there. I was frozen and I couldn't move! The older guy ran out of the kitchen, chasing down the other girls. He was yelling and screaming then. This crazy screaming. Like he was insane or something. There was blood everywhere. And Tami was on the floor. She was bleeding, but she was still alive. The kid was standing over her. He was holding the knife. I was crying.

"I lurched forward all at once. Like I finally had control of my muscles again. I fell on my knees next to Tami and the kid swung the knife at me. He cut open my face, and I crumpled onto the floor and waited for him to kill me. I was bleeding so much. It was getting all over the tile floor in the kitchen. It was everywhere. I could hardly see through the blood. And I couldn't move. Not really. I just lay there. And waited.

"The older guy came back into the room. He shot Tami in the forehead, and she stopped moving. He looked at the kid and he said, 'Thanks. She was going to kill me.'

"The kid didn't say anything. He just stared down at Tami, still holding the knife that was covered in my blood. He dropped the knife. It clattered to the floor.

"'I'll always have your back like that,' said the older guy to the kid.

"But the kid didn't even look at him. 'Is she dead?' he said, pointing his gun at Tami.

"'Yes,' said the older guy.

"And the kid just opened fire on her. He shot her and shot her and shot her. Pumping bullets into her dead body, over and over and over again. And I remember that I could see his face, while he was doing that. And . . . he was smiling." The girl broke down into fresh sobs.

The video ended.

"Is that what Jason told you?" said Gordon pointedly.

I didn't say anything.

"Well is it?" asked Noah.

"He didn't give me a blow-by-blow," I muttered. "It's hard for him to talk about."

"How could you love someone who was capable of something like that?" asked Gordon. He sounded genuinely puzzled.

"How do I know this video is even real?" I asked. "Jason didn't tell me that anyone survived. Maybe you guys just made it up. Maybe you got some chick to tell some bogus story."

"So he didn't tell you much about it at all," said Noah.

"Maybe he even lied to you," said Gordon.

No. I didn't think he'd lied. Why tell me anything about it at all if he were going to lie about it? If he were going to lie, wouldn't he just have lied and said it never happened? That didn't make sense. And what I'd said was true. Jason hadn't talked to me about the evening in detail.

I shook my head. "Or maybe you're lying to me," I said to them. "After all, you've lied to me before. You lied to me about who our family was. You've tricked me and betrayed me and captured me and tied me up. Why in the hell would I trust you?"

"We're your family, Azazel," said Gordon. "We're bound together. You may not understand everything we do, but we do it because we want the best for you."

I snorted. "Right," I said. "You keep trying to turn me into a vessel for an ancient demon so I can commit murder. That's totally the best thing for me."

"That's the best thing for the world, Azazel," said Noah. "Jason is evil. I don't know why you can't see that. He's a being who lives only for destruction and pain. He delights in harming others. He has no regard for human life. The idea of my little sister being under the influence of someone like that is driving me crazy. Yeah, maybe tying you up has been a little extreme. But this is an extreme situation. We're talking about the fate of the human race here."

I gazed at Noah in disbelief. "You really believe that junk? You really believe Michaela Weem?" I looked at Gordon. "You really believe it too?"

"Tradition, Azazel," said Gordon. "This is the way of our family. We can't abandon our roots. It binds us together. It makes us who we are."

"Michaela Weem is a prophet," said Noah.

"Jason's not evil," I said.

"You've seen him kill people," said Noah.

"Only to protect me," I said. "Only to protect himself."

"And the girls in the sorority house?"

"He didn't kill any of them," I said. "That girl didn't see him kill any of them either."

"So you do believe the video is genuine?" asked Gordon.

"No," I said. "I don't. I don't know what I believe. But I know that I trust Jason more than I trust the two of you."

"You trust Jason?" said a voice. It was Jude. He was standing in the doorway with Lilith, whose hands were still tied behind her back. "That's why you and I went to that party in Bradenton, then, right? Because you trusted him so much."

I looked at Jude. "It's not the same," I said.

"If he was lying to you about Lilith, then he might have been lying about anything," said Jude.

"Nothing was going on between me and Jason," said Lilith.

Jude laughed. "Oh, tell the truth, Lilith. Or are you afraid your friend Azazel won't like you anymore?" He paused. "Oh, wait. I forgot. She already hates your guts. What have you got to lose really?"

"That is the truth," said Lilith. "Nothing was going on."

I swallowed. "What about that conversation I heard you two having? What were you going to show Jason? What did you show Jason?"

Lilith rolled her eyes. "Jesus, Zaza. We're being held against our will by crazy people in the middle of nowhere, and you're worried about whether or not I flashed Jason?"

"You flashed Jason?" I repeated.

Lilith pressed her lips together.

"Ready to see some more?" asked Gordon.

"More?" I said.

It went on for hours. Gordon and Noah had more videos. Testimonies from people in two other incidents. One Jason had told me about. A gang war that the Sons had ordered him to be a part of. One that Jason hadn't. It involved vigilante-style justice carried out on a gang of bank robbers who'd slaughtered all their hostages. The robbers had escaped a jail sentence because of a technicality. In the videos, faces stared bleakly into the camera. They described Jason. He was always wielding a gun. He was always calm. He was never sorry. According to the testimonies on the videos, Jason was a cold and efficient killer. However, I did have to note that none of the testimonies featured a person who had actually witnessed Jason killing anyone. And none of the testimonies were about Jason working alone. Still, there were chilling similarities. According to several people, Jason had surveyed the dead bodies with a smile on his face. Jason also seemed fond of herding people in one place and explaining to them why they were being killed. Whether he actually did the killing or Hallam did wasn't clear. I told myself it didn't matter.

But as the day wore on, I began to wonder if it did.

After a barrage of video, Noah and Gordon dug through the rest of their evidence. Police reports. Transcripts of interviews. Photographs of dead bodies. They showed me the pictures of the kitchen in the sorority house. There was blood spattered on the ceiling. They showed me a picture of Tami's body. Her face was mottled with bullet holesher features barely recognizable. With everything they showed me, they pressed me. How could someone do these kinds of things and not be evil? How could I claim to love someone like this? Why couldn't I see that Jason was a monster?

I refused to talk to them after a while. I refused to answer their questions. I didn't know what to say. I felt like I knew Jason well, but I was realizing that I knew very little about Jason's past. I had never really tried to get him tell me about it, because I had assumed that it was too painful for him to talk about it. It didn't matter. I loved Jason for who he was. I loved Jason because he was everything to me. So I didn't ask. I didn't demand he spell out everything for me. Besides, after we'd gotten to Florida, Jason had wanted to leave all of that behind him. He'd just wanted us to be normal kids. I wouldn't have ruined that by forcing him to dredge up old memories.

I told myself that the Jason that I knew was a kind and good person. But I couldn't help but remember the way that Jason had ripped at my clothes in a hotel in Pennsylvania, the insistent way his hands had twisted my skin. I couldn't help but remember watching Jason quickly and systematically shoot the members of the Sons in my aunt's dining room. I couldn't help but remember Jason, just a few days ago, covered in blood, staring blankly as I tried to clean him up.

Worst of all, I remembered things that Michaela Weem had said to me when we'd met her in November. Things like Jason was going to burn thousands of people and that he was going to eat me alive. Things like our combined power would drive men mad. And

It had!

I didn't like to think about that. Jason and I had never talked about it. Maybe it was because it scared us too much to acknowledge that it had actually happened. But a group of ten or fifteen members of the Sons had all gone crazy. Right after Jason and I kissed. They'd been trying to shoot us and then they'd all just come completely mentally unglued, wandering around like frightened children.

It had been easy for me to dismiss the event. I'd told myself I didn't believe what Michaela Weem had said. I'd told myself that she was crazy. I'd told myself that I didn't believe in fate or destiny. I'd told myself that as long as I believed in Jason, in us, then none of that mattered.

But it did matter.

It was time I was honest with myself, even if I wouldn't be honest with Jude and my brothers. I was terrified of Jason. I was terrified of Jason and me together.

It had been easy, all of those months, to blame my uneasiness and fear on external sources like the Sons. If I were afraid of the Sons, I could fight them. I had control. I could learn to shoot guns. I could spin conspiracy theories about Mr. Sutherland and bells being put in my purse. As long as it was something outside of myself, then I could fight it. But the truth was, I was completely out of control.

I didn't know who Jason was. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know who we were together. The Sons thought Jason was the Rising Suna messiah who would unite the world under one government. The Satanists thought Jason was evil incarnatea monster who would destroy free will and enslave the world. The Satanists thought I was the messiahthe one sent to kill Jason and end his reign of terror. As for what the Sons thought of me, I had no idea. I'd thought that I was nothing more than a blip on their radar until Sutherland had showed me those email messages and hinted that the Sons thought that I was the Kali to Jason's Shiva. His dark half. Finally, there were Michaela Weem's prophecies. She said that her visions had changed when Jason had showed up in my life. She said that now she saw visions in which Jason and I did horrible things together.

Whoever you asked, they thought that Jason and I were powerful. And they all thought that there was some sort of capacity for badness in the cards for the two of us.

I was away from Jason now. Maybe I was getting a little bit of distance on the situation. I'd been raised to believe that I made my own destiny. I didn't want to believe that there was anything to what anyone else said about Jason and I. Especially when these people were trying to predict the future, something I regarded as impossible. But the Sons and the Satanists came from completely different backgrounds. They had nothing in common with each other. Except for the fact that they'd both picked Jason and me as either a messianic or destructive force. They disagreed about which was which, but that wasn't really important.

Could it really just be a coincidence?

Or could it be true somehow? Were Jason and I powerful? Did one of us or both of us together have the capacity to destroy the world?

I didn't know what I thought about the stories that Gordon and Noah were telling me. I didn't know if I believed them. And I didn't know if it mattered to me if Jason were actually a killer or not. I was really more concerned, I realized, not with the fact that Jason might have killed people, but with the idea that Jason might have lied to me about it. I'd always thought that the first people he'd killed had been the members of the Sons who'd killed my parents. I did know that I had to face up to the evidence about Jason and me.

As more and more of it piled up, I had to realize that Jason and I weren't normal. That we were vastly different than most teenagers. And that there might be something about us, something special, something powerful, something destructive. Even though the thought seemed insane, I was going to drive myself insane if I didn't accept it.

I was sinking in my thoughts, drifting away. I didn't see the documents that floated in front of me. I didn't hear Noah's or Gordon's voice anymore. I lost track of all the things they showed me. None of it mattered anymore.

There was only one thing that mattered, and I told them when they were finally finished. The floor of the abandoned room was littered with papers and manila folders. I was sprawled Indian style on the floor, surveying my brothers, Jude, Lilith, and the evidence. The afternoon sun streamed through the windows, giving everything a lazy, tired glow. I looked them in the eye, one after another, and I said, "It doesn't matter. I won't kill him. I'll never kill him. I don't care what he's done."

I knew that was true, too. Even if I became convinced that Michaela Weem was absolutely right, and that lurking somewhere inside Jason was the monster she said was theredangerous, destructive, violenteven then, I couldn’t kill Jason. I loved him too much.

Everyone stared at me as if there were something completely wrong with me.

Jude's phone rang. We all turned to look at him as he answered it. He didn't say much, just listened. I watched his face contort in a mix of rage and pain. He ripped the phone away from his ear and dashed it against the floor.

No one said anything.

Jude seethed, pacing in a frenzy.

Finally, Noah said, "What? What is it?"

Jude stopped. "It was him," he said.

"Jason?" asked Noah.

"I have to go," said Jude. He crossed the room to a suitcase that sat in the corner. Knelt by it. Twisted the combination. Opened it. He took out the keys to the van. So that was where they kept them, was it? Now, if only I could figure out some way to get down here to that suitcase. Maybe tonight. But how was I going to get past the combination?

"Wait, you can't just go," said Noah. He was on his feet, moving to intercept Jude.

"I'm going," Jude said, weaving around him.

Gordon had stood up too. "You can't hurt Jason!" he called after Jude. "Azazel has to"

"Fuck Azazel," retorted Jude, and he was out the door.

We heard the van start and drive off.

"Dammit," said Gordon, staring after him.

* * *

Less than twenty minutes later, the door to the house burst open and Jude came barreling back in. He was carrying a bundle of cloth. It had red stains on it. Was there something inside it?

Gordon got to his feet and stalked over to Jude. "You can't just run off like that," he said. "You can't just take the van. What if there was an emergency?"

"Emergency?" repeated Jude. "This was an emergency."

"What happened?" asked Noah.

Jude clutched the bundle tighter. "If he'd only been there when I'd gotten there, I would have"

"You wouldn't have done anything," said Gordon sharply. "Because this isn't just about you."

"But it's about my mother!" Jude said, his face twisting like he was about to cry. "He's got my mother. Do you understand that?"

"What happened?" said Noah.

"What happened?" repeated Jude. "What happened! That bastard!" And Jude choked up.

"Jude?" prompted Noah.

Jude flung the bundle of cloth at Noah. Noah caught it awkwardly. He knelt and set it on the floor. Then he stared at it. It was close to where I sat. I could see it better now. It looked like a ripped piece of dress or skirt. And the red stains had a brown tint to the edges. They were some kind of liquid. The liquid was still wet.

I refused to let my brain make the logical connection. Jason wouldn't have . . . Jason had been bluffing, like I'd thought. When Jude called his bluff, he hadn't . . . He couldn't . . .

"Unwrap it," Jude ordered, his voice harsh.

Noah hesitated.

"Do it!" Jude said.

Gingerly, Noah began to pull away at the edges of the cloth, peeling it back so that he could see what was inside.

Abruptly, he jumped back and cried out a little, tossing the bundle away from him.

It landed right in front of me. I swallowed hard, but I couldn't help myself. I leaned forward. Looked inside.

It was a finger.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers